Upon first glance, Paige Birgfeld was a hard-working single mother-of-three who juggled multiple odd jobs to make ends meet.
But an investigation into the 34-year-old twice divorcee's disappearance from Grand Junction, Colorado, in the summer of 2007 revealed she had been living a secret double life as an escort.
The case went cold as investigators struggled to prove foul play without a body. Her remains weren't found until 2012.
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“Paige was the most outgoing [person] -- independent, stubborn at times. Just [a] great sister and terrific mom,” her brother, Craig Birgfeld, said.
Carol Linderholm, a friend who occasionally gave massages for Paige’s escort service, said Paige juggled a number of jobs to provide for her family.
“She was working probably about four or five different jobs [that] she was very knowledgeable about. She developed a business of baby slings. She taught brain dance classes to little children and she really enjoyed that,” Linderholm said.
“[She was] working all of these jobs, but still showed up at the [Parent Teacher Association] meeting, and at the parents' playgroups and everything else. She’s a real special person,” as her brother Craig Birgfeld said.
However, Craig and the rest of Paige’s family were unaware of her work in the escort service.
Paige Birgfeld vanishes without a trace
On June 28, 2007, a Thursday, Paige Birgfeld disappeared, leaving her kids with her live-in nanny. She had promised to return later that evening.
“I tried to get in touch with Paige and she didn’t return my phone calls, which I thought was rather odd. I thought she was just really busy and I would hear from her later,” Linderholm recalled.
Paige Birgfeld’s daughter, Jess Dixon, left desperate voicemails asking for her mom to come home.
“Paige wouldn’t be bad on her word. If she said she was coming home, she was coming home,” her friend, Barbra Campell, said.
But Friday came and went, and by Saturday, there was still no word on her whereabouts.
“So, after not hearing from her mom for two full days, Jess, who's only [eight] years old, goes down to the police station with her nanny … to let police know her mom has disappeared,” Linderholm said.
Frank Birgfeld, Paige Birgfeld’s father, who lived about a four-hour drive away in Denver, said that he also tried to get in touch but he couldn’t reach her.
On Saturday, June 30, 2007, the Mason County Sheriff’s Department called Frank Birgfeld to tell him that she was missing. He said he remembered saying, “This is a problem. There is a crime being committed here.”
He immediately leapt into action.
“I didn’t hesitate one second. We went ahead and threw some stuff in an overnight bag and came straight up,” Frank Birgfeld said.
“When my dad called me to tell me that Paige was missing, that’s the first time I ever heard him cry since I was a little kid,” Craig Birgfeld said. “My heart dropped.”
Paige Birgfeld’s car is discovered in flames
Investigators made a shocking discovery three days after Paige Birgfeld was reported missing. On July 1, 2007, they came upon her red Ford Focus engulfed in flames.
“It was very clear that it was an arson, because there was nothing else around it that was burned. It was just the car itself, and it was parked in a location that Paige really had no association with,” Dan Rubinstein, the Mesa County district attorney, said of the discovery on July 1, 2007.
“Prior to finding the vehicle on fire, this was a missing persons case, and as soon as that happened, it was an immediate conversion over to ‘that is foul play,’” Rubinstein said.
Mesa County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Wayne Weyler said that arson is often a way to destroy evidence, including fibers, hair, DNA and fingerprints.
“At that point, we at least suspected that she had been kidnapped and feared that she was also deceased,” Rubinstein said.
Police said the driver’s side front seat of Paige Birgfeld’s car had been pushed all the way back, indicating someone very tall had been behind the wheel. Paige was only 5 feet, 4 inches tall and she wouldn’t have been able to reach the pedals at that distance.
“The hottest point of the burn was on the driver's side... It was later tested and we determined that there was petroleum-type accelerants used,” Weyler said, suggesting gas could’ve fed the fire.
Police also discovered Paige Birgfeld’s day planner in the car, which loved ones say she would’ve never dropped.
“As we looked at the day planner, four of the dates had been torn out of the day planner, and they were June 26, 27, 28, and 29. Those were the dates that Paige Birgfeld went missing,” Weyler said.
Spotlight falls on Paige Birgfeld’s ex-husbands
Investigators and volunteers launched a desperate search for Paige in the neighboring muddy areas and deserts.
“Mesa County is 3,300 square miles, and as we began our search for Paige, we had to be concerned about if there’s a body and if there’s a body buried,” Weyler said.
Craig Birgfeld left his life on the West Coast to support the search for his sister.
“We came here from Seattle to support my parents, to take care of the kids and to find Paige. We bought a one-way ticket, and we’ve been committed to stay[ing] here until we find Paige,” he said.
As pressure to find her mounted, investigators’ eyes turned toward Paige’s second ex-husband Rob Dixon. The two had been married from 1998 to 2006 and were said to have had a troubled relationship.
“[Their relationship was] extremely volatile,” Frank Birgfeld said. “Her husband had been very wealthy. As Rob’s wealth kind of toppled, he came under more and more pressure, and it bled out into the relationship.”
One night in 2004, Paige Birgfeld called 911.
In the call, she told the police, “My husband and I were in a fight, and he was supposed to watch my children while I went to work, and he said that I would come home and find them all murdered.”
There were no charges filed against Dixon that year. But 12 months later, in October 2005, she accused him of assaulting her, and he was charged with third-degree assault. He denied there was any physical violence, and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment. The charge was later dismissed and the couple divorced the following year.
“She was living in this very beautiful 6,000-square-foot home, and her mortgage was somewhere around $6,000 a month,” Rubinstein said.
Authorities said that Dixon quickly came under suspicion.
“We were, of course, very interested in Rob Dixon as a potential suspect because we knew about the volatility of the relationship,” Rubinstein added. “But he had moved to Philadelphia at that point, and we were quickly able to show that his phone was in Philadelphia at that time and he couldn't have been in two places at once.”
Sgt. Weyler said Dixon immediately came out to Colorado after he found out she was missing.
“I think that Rob is crushed. He still loves Paige, and he definitely loves his children,” Paige’s mother Suzanne said.
Authorities cleared Rob Dixon of any involvement in Paige’s disappearance.
Authorities also turned their attention to Paige’s first husband, Ron Beigler, to whom she had been married from 1995 to 1997.
Her friend Barbra Campbell says their marriage quickly dissolved due to her wish to have children, which he didn’t want. However, they remained friends and started rekindling their relationship after her divorce from Dixon. Beigler was one of the last people to see her alive around 7 p.m. on June 28, 2007, the day she vanished.
“We just decided to meet that day. Eagle[, Colorado] was the halfway point for both of us,” Beigler said. “So we left at the same time and arrived back in our towns at approximately the same time. She called me to make sure I made it back into Denver and that’s the last I ever heard from her.”
Beigler had also called 911 to voice concerns about Paige Birgfeld’s whereabouts.
In that call, he told the police, “I saw her all day on Thursday and then I talked to her when she got back in town. She is definitely missing because she would never leave her children.”
Cell phone tower data also proved that his location at the time of her disappearance was near Denver, hours away from Grand Junction. Investigators ruled out Beigler almost immediately in connection to her disappearance.
Paige Birgfeld’s secret life revealed
Several days after Paige Birgfeld’s car was discovered in flames in Grand Junction, a motorist on the highway leading southeast out of the town got a flat tire. When the driver pulled over to fix it, they found Paige’s checkbook. Along the same road, a health card, insurance card and other items tied to the missing mother were found.
“One check was torn out at a time. One card was thrown at a time. So it appears she was just trying to leave us a trail of breadcrumbs to show us where she was going,” Weyler said.
Still, her close friends held out hope that she was alive.
“All of us on the search team wanted to think she was still alive somewhere -- that she was being held,” said Linderholm.
The roadside discoveries included a business card that led investigators to a new revelation: Paige Birgfeld’s secret double life as an escort and former stripper.
In the 1990s, Paige Birgfeld danced part-time under the name “Madison” at the Mile High Saloon in Denver, investigators said.
According to police records, Dixon told police that it was his discovery that his wife had been working as an escort that led to the couple’s altercation in 2005 and ultimately ended the marriage.
Paige started her own escort company in 2005, a business she called Models, Incorporated.
“We found out that she had a double life. She was a really, really talented business owner who had four different businesses going. Three of them [were] legitimate, and one of them was an escort business that only very few people knew about,” Rubinstein said.
She used the name “Carrie” at the escort service, and advertised massage services. Some clients, however, wanted more.
“Paige charged the most that I've ever heard. ... In some cases … up to $2,500 and, for the most part, $1,000 to $1,200 for sex,” Weyler said.
“Lots of people have secret lives. But I think with Paige, as you dug into her life, you found out that she had financial issues and that she had to make additional money. Even her parents had no idea that this was going on in her life,” he added.
Paige Birgfeld’s friend, Barbra Campbell, agreed that her financial situation played a role in the escort business.
“Paige and I had conversations about her decisions carrying an element of danger, and when someone gets to a really difficult place in their life, you have to make a choice,” Campbell said.
“Women in the commercial sex trade have a mortality rate 40 times higher than the average woman.... So if that doesn't tell you something about how dangerous it is, I don't know what will,” said Megan Lundstrom, a survivor of sex trafficking and the co-founder and director of research at The Avery Center, an organization that works to end commercial sexual exploitation.
Paige Birgfeld’s phone records lead police to potential suspects
Investigators soon learned that Paige Birgfeld had a separate cell phone that she used for her escort business, and investigators honed in on the clients who called her on the night she vanished.
“She had received numerous calls that day, and [we] determined that her last call had happened around 9 p.m. that night of June 28,” Weyler said. “We determined that many of them were clients for her adult service, and right at that point, we had at least seven suspects.”
Officers focused on Lester Ralph Jones, one of Paige Birgfeld’s clients, who called her service the day before she went missing. He had a criminal past that included sexual assault and kidnapping.
Three of the men on the list of callers drove a white truck -- a detail that stuck out to investigators after speaking with Linderholm, who’d mentioned Paige had a frightening encounter with a white truck before.
“Paige was on her own and she had leased an office space… [One night], she eventually closed her office, went downstairs to her car and as she was getting ready to leave, she sees this truck pull up right behind her to block [her car] in,” Linderholm said Paige Birgfeld had told her. “She was in her minivan and … she just threw the car in reverse and just gunned it real hard.”
“She didn't care what happened, the consequences of hitting the car or anything,” Linderholm added. “She just wanted out of there, and the white pickup took off,” Linderholm said. “She was extremely scared. She told me about it, and she says, ‘I’ve never been so scared in my life.’”
Investigators’ spotlight focuses on Lester Jones
One by one, all of the potential suspects on the phone Paige Birgfeld used while escorting were eliminated, except for a man named Lester Jones, a 55-year-old local RV mechanic who had tried to book Paige Birgfeld for a rendezvous the day before she went missing.
“Paige said she had met with him previously through the escort service and it was uncomfortable because he knew her,” said Lissah Norcross, an investigator with the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.
Paige Birgfeld instead asked Linderholm, who occasionally gave massages for the escort service, to go in her place because of her prior encounter with Jones.
“That time when Lester Jones was calling and calling her, she asked me if I wanted to stop by over there and I said I’m nervous about going to somebody’s house, and she basically kind of talked me into it,” Linderholm said.
Linderhom said she felt fearful walking through the door to meet with Jones.
“He’s a very large, overpowering person,” Linderhom said. According to Linderhold, the first thing he said to her, was “I want sex.”
“I looked at him and I said, ‘Then you should probably call another escort service, because it’s not gonna happen with me.’ He says, ‘I was told you’d give a massage,’ and I said, ‘Well … that’s probably the extent of what I would do,’ and I gave him a light one... I didn’t really want to touch him,” Linderholm said.
Norcross said the investigators found that Jones worked at Bob Scott RVs in Grand Junction as a mechanic. The shop was diagonally across the street from where Paige Birgfeld's car was found aflame, she said.
Investigators also noted that Jones was tall -- enough to have potentially pushed the driver’s side front seat of Paige’s car backward before it was set on fire.
“One of the key things that we found is that the driver's side front seat had been pushed all the way back. We knew that the last person that drove this car had to be tall. And extremely tall,” Weyler said. “And in this case, Lester Ralph Jones was 6 [feet], 5 [inches].”
Mike Singer, the owner of Bob Scott RVs said Jones was a good, likeable employee.
“Lester was a very good employee. Very honest. Hard working. Customers liked him. [They] got along well with him. He had a very good sense of humor and he could very easily talk to customers and put them at ease about problems,” Singer said.
Investigators contacted Jones at work on July 5, 2007, and said he was willing to speak with police.
During two-and-a-half hours of questioning, he cooperated fully, investigators said. He let officers take his fingerprints, gave his DNA and handed over the keys to his truck -- a white Dodge pickup.
However, he denied knowing where Paige Birgfeld was or what had happened to her.
Before Paige Birgfeld disappeared, she received a series of calls from a mystery man who dialed her from a disposable TracFone, a low-cost phone service that runs on purchased minutes.
“The TracFone only was responsible for five calls in the life of that phone. It was activated Wednesday morning, the same day that Ms. Linderholm had her appointment with Mr. Jones,” Rubinstein said.
However, Jones denied ever owning a TracFone. But during a police search of Jones’ home and mechanic’s workspace, investigators made a shocking discovery.
“We found a bra, we found some men’s wigs. We found a gas can,” Norcross said.
Singer said it would not have been unusual for a technician at the shop to have a gas can in the building, adding that when Jones worked on people’s cars on weekends, he used his own gas can.
They also found condoms, Viagra and, in a trash can, a box for a TracFone.
Using that packaging, investigators were able to figure out that it was purchased at a Walmart on North Avenue in Grand Junction. They contacted the store’s security for video footage of the person who purchased it, Rubinstein said.
“Lo and behold, to our surprise, right there, as clear as day, was Lester Ralph Jones, and you could see him in the same clothing that we had seen him in a prior interview,” Weyler said.
But even when he was interrogated a second time, Jones adamantly denied it was him in the Walmart video.
Investigators flew out scent-sniffing dogs to search Paige Birgfeld’s burnt car. A police K-9 detected not only Jones’ scent but also that there had been a dead body in the back seat.
However, without being able to locate her body, the case remained circumstantial and authorities said they were reluctant to charge Jones.
“We really felt very confident that Lester Jones was the person. However, because of her lifestyle and that alternate business that she had, we really needed to have the body,” Weyler said.
After five long years, Paige Birgfeld’s remains are found
Paige Birgfeld’s family waited for updates in the case for five agonizing years, during which the case went cold. But in March 2012, a breakthrough came when a hiker venturing near the highway where her personal items had been found came upon her remains in a gulch -- a dry streambed -- amid rocks, weeds and brush.
“It didn't take any of us more than a couple of minutes to realize that that had to be Paige, and sure enough, fairly quickly, through dental records and, ultimately, through DNA, we were able to verify that that was in fact the remains of Paige Birgfeld,” Rubinstein said.
“We can surmise that she was taken out to that area, tied up and duct-taped to keep silent,” Weyler said.
Lester Jones is arrested, stands trial
Jones was arrested in November 2014 and charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder and kidnapping in relation to Paige Birgfeld’s death. His trial began in July 2016, nine years after her disappearance.
During the trial, prosecutors laid out a motive for why Jones killed Birgfeld: He had prior incidents of using violence to control women and he had become frustrated he couldn’t see her again after using her services once before, they alleged.
Paige Birgfeld’s then 17-year-old daughter Jess Dixon testified at the trial, recalling how she was just 8 years old when her mom didn’t return home. Frank Birgfeld also took the stand with an emotional testimony in his daughter’s case.
Jones’ ex-wife, Lisa Nance, served as the prosecution’s star witness, testifying that in the late 1990s, Jones kidnapped her at gunpoint and threatened to kill her.
“Lisa had split up with him, and he was not willing to accept that. She had taken up with a younger man named Joe Bear, and ultimately, Mr. Jones had followed the two of them,” Rubinstein said.
Nance said Jones had chased after her and Bear, and that Jones had shot a gun at him. One shot grazed Bear’s head. Nance later got a restraining order, but she says Jones still couldn’t let her go.
Less than a month later, he showed up in her home and threatened her with a gun. They then got into a car together and Jones took Nance for a terrifying ride, she said.
“As soon as we got outside of town, I looked at him and said, ‘What are we going to do?’ And he looked at me, he said, ‘I’m going to kill you,’” she recalled. “He told me he was going to put me in the bottom of the lake where no one would find me.”
She escaped and Jones was later arrested for kidnapping and sexual assault.
In Paige Birgfeld's murder trial, the defense claimed Jones was the wrong man, and pointed suspicion toward a list of Paige Birgfeld’s other clients.
Jones didn’t take the stand himself, but the jury heard him speak in a perplexing phone call a day after he went through a five-hour interrogation with investigators.
In that call, police informed him they were done processing his cars and that they would be released back to him.
Jones said, “So I can come pick them up?”
“Yeah, you bet,” the officer responded.
“I don’t think so,” Jones replied.
The officer responded, “Uh, Mr. Jones, I’m not following you.”
“You’re asking me where I would bury a body,” Jones said.
“I’m sorry?” the officer said.
“You’re asking where I could bury a body,” Jones said again.
“When did I ask you that?” the officer said.
This time, there was no response back from Jones.
“This is a couple of weeks after Miss Birgfeld went missing. We hadn't found her remains until five years later. We had no idea whether she was buried. We had no idea where she was. So that raised a lot of red flags for us,” Rubinstein said.
Jones stopped responding when his wife, Elaine Jones, took the phone. She explained that he had taken some sleeping pills.
“Mr. Jones did attempt to overdose, and he left a note saying that he didn’t do this to his wife,” Weyler said.
The note said, “My dearest love, I prayed all night, and this morning I’ve asked for his forgiveness. Tell the cops to get ------. I never did it but I can’t be railroaded.”
At trial, Elaine Jones testified that she was “crushed” that her husband had paid for prostitutes, but remained married to him because of her Christian faith. She wasn’t able to give her husband an alibi during the crucial hours when Paige Birgfeld went missing or when her car went up in flames. Elaine Jones also identified her husband in the security camera video from Walmart where he was seen purchasing the TracFone that he had denied buying.
After 22 days of exhaustive testimony and closing arguments, the jury was unable to reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared on Sept. 9, 2016.
“I was devastated when the jury was hung because I had seen the evidence. I didn't think Lester was guilty going in. But I was beyond a shadow of a doubt coming out. He did this,” Campbell, Paige Birgfeld’s friend, said.
Prosecutors quickly made a decision to retry the case.
“I was convinced that there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It needed to be presented differently. It needed to be presented more concisely,” Rubinstein said.
Lester Jones’ second trial
Lester Jones’ second trial began on Nov. 21, 2016, just 10 weeks after the first trial and nine years after Paige disappeared.
“We pared the trial down. We just needed to get it done. But my strategy, really, was I needed to listen to what the first jury told me about what was important to them, and focus on the right things,” Rubinstein said.
He said that prosecutors realized between the two trials that Lester Jones was trying to get ahold of Paige Birgfeld on a Monday. So, they looked for evidence that he had been at her work site on that day.
They pulled a surveillance video of her office and found a white Chevy Impala circling the parking lot, even passing Paige Birgfeld’s Ford Focus.
While there were no signs of Jones’ white pick-up truck on the video, investigators said they knew that Jones’ wife had left town at the time and that she owned a white Chevy Impala.
“We were able to see that his wife’s car, the Chevy Impala, is driving around right about the time he’s on the phone, calling that phone number,” Rubinstein said, referring to the phone Paige Birgfeld used as an escort.
Closing arguments in Lester Jones’ retrial wrapped up just before Christmas Day in 2016. The jury entered four long days of deliberation, after which they returned a guilty verdict on all counts. Lester Jones was found guilty of first degree murder, felony murder, second-degree murder for knowingly causing the death of Paige Birgfeld and kidnapping.
“The judge gave the only sentence that Colorado law allows, which is life without the possibility of parole for the murder charge,” Rubinstein said.
Nearly a decade after Paige Birgfeld was last seen, and after years of heartbreak, her family feels there is no such thing as having full closure with her death. Campbell said Paige would be happy today to see how her kids are growing up.
“I’m pretty sure there's not a day that passes that I don't think about her,” Campbell said tearfully.
Lester Jones remains in prison, but is currently appealing his conviction based in part on the argument there was no physical evidence to tie him to the crime. He is asking for his kidnapping sentence to be vacated and for the kidnapping conviction to merge with the felony murder conviction.